|Born||17 March 1977|
Chicago, United States
|Spiers and Boden, Bellowhead|
Jon Boden (born 17 March 1977) is a singer, composer and musician, best known as lead singer and main arranger of Bellowhead. His first instrument is the fiddle and he is a leading proponent of "English traditional fiddle style" and also of "fiddle singing", both of which he employed in Bellowhead, in the duo Spiers & Boden, and previously as a member of Eliza Carthy's Ratcatchers.
To date Jon Boden has been the recipient of 11 BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards, more than any other musician.
Boden also fronts his own band the Remnant Kings, put together in 2009 to perform his post-apocalyptic song cycle Songs From The Floodplain. He has also made contributions to many other albums as a fiddler, singer and guitarist, most notably two albums with Fay Hield & The Hurricane Party.
In 2010 he launched an ambitious project to record and deliver A Folk Song A Day on line, aiming to inspire others to build a repertoire of songs and engage in social singing. All 365 songs are now available on iTunes, Spotify and YouTube, as well as on the www.afolksongaday.com website.
Boden holds a master's degree in Musical Theatre and has worked on numerous, prestigious theatrical productions, including two plays with the Royal Shakespeare Company. In 2012 Jon was commissioned to create a stage show based on The Ballad Of Little Musgrave And Lady Barnard as part of the Benjamin Britten centenary celebrations.
As a composer Boden's output has grown increasingly diverse, crossing over into classical, choral, dance, pop, film and television.
Boden was born in Chicago in 1977 but grew up in Winchester, England, where he attended Henry Beaufort School and Peter Symonds College. He has a BA in Medieval Studies from Durham University and a master's degree in Composition for Musical Theatre from the London College of Music.
He first started writing for the stage along with friend Chris T-T when still at school and he wrote his first musical whilst at sixth-form college. At Durham University he composed music for a number of plays and wrote a musical for his college. Whilst at Durham he met Ben Naylor who subsequently went on to become a theatre director and with whom Boden has worked many times since.
Alongside his performing career Boden has continued to work in theatre, most notably with the RSC.
When Jon Boden first met John Spiers in the Elm Tree pub in Oxford, Boden had little experience of folk clubs having played exclusively in pub sessions up to that point. The duo quickly established common ground and started playing together, soon establishing themselves on the live folk club circuit. They were signed by Fellside Records and their debut album Through & Through was released in 2001. The following year they toured with Eliza Carthy as part of her Ratcatchers band.
They released three further albums for Fellside, Bellow in 2003 and the companion discs, Songs and Tunes both released in 2005. Spiers & Boden then signed to Navigator Records releasing the themed Vagabond in 2008 and retrospective album The Works in 2011. The latter marked their 10th anniversary as a recording duo. They toured that year and collaborators from The Works joined them on stage, with a finale at London's Shepherds Bush Empire featuring many guests.
In Spring 2013, Spiers & Boden undertook the innovative Backyard Songs tour, playing material relevant to each show's locality and inviting audiences to contribute local songs, dances and folklore. Their farewell tour was announced the following year in March and May 2014 and the duo's activities were put on hold.
Boden plays fiddle and sings lead vocal in Spiers & Boden. He was the first person to use a "stomp box" with English traditional music (a large wooden box containing a microphone and made to sound like a kick drum) - an idea he and Spiers borrowed from singer-songwriter Rory McLeod. Boden also plays acoustic guitar in Spiers & Boden employing a percussive finger style reminiscent of Nic Jones and Martin Simpson, but using the highly unusual[according to whom?] tuning of CEBEBE.
The folk big band was famously conceived by Spiers & Boden whilst stuck in traffic en route to playing a gig in Essex. Initially conceived as a way to take the duo's show to the bigger stages and festivals, John and Jon approached a wish list of friends and musical associates as well as leading session players from the world music and jazz scenes, with the idea of starting an English equivalent of the Canadian band La Bottine Souriante. Initially, Boden arranged and orchestrated an hour's worth of material for the 10 piece band, all based on existing Spiers & Boden material, in time for Bellowhead's debut at that the 2004 Oxford Folk Festival. This was swiftly followed by recording the five track E.P. Onymous, which they released independently.
Adding sousaphone player Gideon Juckes to the lineup in 2005, the band then signed to German label Westpark Music and recorded their debut full-length album Burlesque. These first two releases established Boden as the principal arranger for Bellowhead. He continued in that role, arranging around two-thirds of all the songs Bellowhead recorded.
Bellowhead subsequently signed to Navigator records recording Matachin in 2008 and releasing a further two albums (Hedonism in 2010 followed by Broadside in 2012, both of which, reached Silver Disc status in the UK) before signing to Island Records in 2014 and releasing Revival. Upon release Revival charted at number 12 in the UK album charts.
Bellowhead had a total of seven singles 'playlisted' by BBC Radio 2, all but one of which were arranged by Boden. Later tours saw an increasing number of after-show sessions taking place in pubs local to the venues (see The Remnant Kings below). Following Boden's decision to leave the band to pursue other interests, Bellowhead disbanded in May 2016.
Boden has released two solo albums. Painted Lady in 2006 released on Jon's own Soundpost Records and Songs From The Floodplain in 2009, released by Navigator Records.
Painted Lady was produced by Jon and Ben Ivitsky and it feature 12 songs written by Boden. The record was also notable for the fact that Boden played every instrument including fiddle, octave fiddle, concertina, banjo, guitars, double bass, drums, Indian harmonium, glockenspiel, electric piano, and more unusually for a folk artist, Moog synthesiser and drum machine. Fay Hield is the only other contributor singing backing vocals on one song.
Songs From The Floodplain is a post-apocalyptic song cycle, all 12 songs written by Boden. The album was produced by Boden with Keith Angel and again Jon plays all instruments. It is a concept album based on a dystopian future after some unnamed apocalypse finds a cast of characters reverting to traditional rituals and ceremonies, while trying to make sense of their survival. A play based on the song cycle is currently in development by playwright Barney Norris.
Boden toured Songs From The Floodplain several times with The Remnant Kings. The show mixes in selections from A Folk Song A Day that loosely fit the dystopian theme, Painted Lady and other cover versions. The stage show is also notable for its use of phonograph wax cylinder players. The band is made up of multi-instrumentalists and includes Bellowhead cohorts Sam Sweeney (on fiddle, concertina, glass harmonica and drums) and Paul Sartin (on fiddle and oboe) with Rob Harbron (concertina, fiddle, banjo and guitar) and Rick Foot on bass. Live, Boden plays guitar, electric guitar, fiddle, melodeon and concertina and sings lead on all songs.
Remnant King gigs were also notable for singing sessions organised after the show, either within the venues or at nearby pubs. This saw the band congregate around a table with various audience members, all singing folk songs unaccompanied. The idea was later developed with Bellowhead with the band engaging in regular after show sessions on their tours. Boden discussed the importance of these events in this key-note speech for the English Folk Expo in 2014.
In 2016, following the end of Bellowhead, Boden re-released his first album Painted Lady with three newly recorded tracks, and toured entirely solo for the first time.
The stated aim of A Folk Song A Day was to post a traditional folksong onto the site, every day for a year. The site grew into an active blog with a lively community exploring the history and roots of the music, but was primarily intended to promote the art of social singing by giving people access to an expansive repertoire of traditional tunes.
Many of the songs were recorded with no accompaniment, but Boden used fiddle, concertina and guitar in some cases. Most were also performed solo, although he had occasional guest singers, notably Fay Hield and several extra voices on some of the carols that were the focus for December, based on the Sheffield tradition at Dungworth.
The project was supported with the release of 12 monthly digital albums, making all of the content available for download and ownership.
A recurring theme in Boden's work is the social aspect of folksong and folk tunes and the idea that the folk tradition is a common heritage that belongs to all. It's a theme he's returned to again and again, notably with Spiers & Boden's Backyard Tour (which included music relevant to the towns that they played) and in post gig sessions that have happened in bars and pubs after many shows, including the Bellowhead tour of November 2014.
As recently as October 2014 Boden used the theme as the main inspiration for his keynote address at The Folk Expo in Bury. He explored both the role of the folk singer as professional, but also suggested that there needs to be a balance between performance and participation.
At the start of 2013 Jon was commissioned by Jonathan Reekie, the musical director of Aldeburgh Music to create the show based on Britten's The Ballad Of Little Musgrave And Lady Barnard. It was part of a much wider global programme of events to celebrate Britten's centenary, straddling the worlds of folk music, theatre and classical composition. The resulting piece used Britten's setting of the ballad for male voice choir, interspersed with five 'interpolations' composed by Boden, with lyrics co-written by him and Mary Hampton. The soloists were Mary Hampton, Tim van Eyken, Rob Habron, James Findlay and The Peterborough Male Voice Choir. The production was directed by David Edwards and was staged at Snape Maltings Aldeburgh, Peterborough Cathedral and The Sage, Gateshead.
In 2013 Boden joined the Sacconi Quartet to perform Elvis Costello and the Brodski Quartet's Juliet Letters at The Bristol Proms. In 2015 they repeated their performance at The Sacconi Quartet's own Chamber Music Festival in Folkestone and at the Lichfield festival.
In film and television, Jon has written the soundtrack for the BBC TV version of the successful radio comedy Count Arthur Strong. Boden also contributed a version of Mike Scott's How Long Will I Love You to the soundtrack of the Richard Curtis' feature film About Time, appearing as a busker in an extended montage sequence. Boden's version of the song plays at the end of the film.
Boden composed All Hallows for Music to Move to, a part of the annual Dance Umbrella, London's international dance festival, celebrating 21st century choreography across the capital and running since 1978. It was a commission from Fuel Theatre and the piece was used to create two videos, the first capture a performance from professional choreographer Vicki Igbokwe, the second a montage of footage from the public, who were encouraged to film their own response to the piece.
Boden was commissioned to compose a short choral piece for The Bristol Proms 2015, which was performed at Bristol Old Vic Theatre by Erebus Ensemble, a 40-voice choir.
(for other discography see Spiers and Boden)